On 2 August 1999, a 20-year-old Nicolas Anelka joined Real Madrid from Arsenal. He was Arsenal's top scorer in the 1998-99 season with 17 Premier League goals, and was voted the PFA Young Player of the Year. Arsenal fans certainly knew they were going to miss their prolific number 9. What they didn't know, however, was that they would have to wait 18 years (and counting) for their next successful number 9.
The first victim was Davor Suker, who joined Arsenal on the back of his stellar performances for Croatia in the 1998 World Cup. When he left a year later with just eight Premier League starts to his name, Francis Jeffers was drafted in from Everton and billed a "fox in the box" by Wenger himself. Three years, 22 Premier League games, four goals. The curse had just been cast.
Since Jeffers' departure, Arsenal have had six more number 9s, with new signing Alexandre Lacazette being the 7th. Each one of the six flattered to deceive. When Podolski left the club, Giroud turned down the chance to don the number 9 jersey – a wise decision considering the burden of expectation that has weighed the jersey down for years.
Lacazette has boldly taken on the challenge; let's hope he becomes Arsenal's first successful number 9 in the 21st century.
Here are the last 6 players to have donned Arsenal's number 9 jersey and invariably fallen victim to the inexplicable curse:
#6 Antonio Reyes (2004-2006)
Reyes built a huge reputation for himself in Spain playing for Sevilla, making his debut aged just 16. He was only 20 when he joined Arsenal from Sevilla in the January transfer window of 2004. 23 goals in over 100 games during two and a half seasons may have been judged a decent return in most cases, but not for a player who was expected to become Thierry Henry's long term successor.
Being left out of the starting line up for the Champions League final against Barcelona in 2006 was the final straw. Reyes joined Real Madrid on a year long loan, with Julio Baptista moving to Arsenal as part of a swap deal.
"Adapting to England was difficult, things like the weather and the language were hard for me," Reyes said later. "It was quite difficult."
It really was. For him, for the fans, and as it turned out, for his successor too.